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Lift Truck Tips: Battery room as fleet barometer

Problems in the back of the house could point to wider fleet maintenance issues.
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor
January 01, 2012

When Craig Bruns wants to quickly assess a customer’s lift truck maintenance practices, he heads straight for the battery room. Bruns is director of aftermarket support for Crown Equipment, and he says a glance at the battery room can be a reliable diagnostic tool for a fleet’s overall health.

“It tells me a lot about the conversation I’m going to have in the next 15 minutes,” says Bruns. “When there’s acid on the floor and white corrosion on the batteries, nine times out of 10 similar maintenance practices are used on the entire forklift, and the costs are very high.”

These are not necessarily customers without regard for maintenance and efficiency. In fact, many such customers started out with initiatives to improve both. But by attempting to precisely right-size both the fleet and its supply of batteries, too many have fallen victim to inflexibility.

For example, a reach truck might need three batteries for optimal three-shift operation, says Bruns, but most customers cut that short and only use two. One customer was getting two years out of a battery that should last five to seven years.

“It’s not enough to purchase efficient equipment,” says Bruns. “You have to use it efficiently. We recently audited 10% of a customer’s relatively new fleet and found that not one of the batteries had water visible at the top of the cell.”

The battery room is designed for a current time, not necessarily a dynamic time, and Bruns says it is this window into history that is the first indication of a fleet’s condition.

“I walked into a battery room once and saw almost 100 pallet trucks stacked on top of one another,” says Bruns.

“The customer didn’t think about where they would be parked when not in use, and there was lots of wheel damage.”

Advances in opportunity charging allow a battery room to be supplemented by satellite charging locations. Five or 10 years ago, says Bruns, a battery manufacturer would have said you can’t opportunity charge, you’ll ruin the battery. Now there are charging stations that take up a third of the space they did only a few years ago.

But a decentralized approach is not without its pitfalls, as some early adopters learned the hard way. Bruns described a facility with a battery room and five satellite charging stations. The setup worked well until the customer needed to go from two shifts to three. The opportunity charging just couldn’t keep up, and the entire fleet was forced back to the main battery room to stay operational. The customer had the same problems as before the satellite charge locations were installed, only worse.

“It’s all about planning,” says Bruns. “So many customers just don’t know how many lifts they’ll need or how fast they will grow.”

Bruns advises his customers to look ahead, but not before they take a hard look at the battery room.

Read more Lift Truck Tips.

About the Author

Josh Bond
Senior Editor

Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.


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